Paycheck Chronicles

What to Do in a Government Shutdown: Don't Panic! Be Proactive

(U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)
(U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)

Government shutting down again? Panic seems like the natural response to the prospect of missing a paycheck due to a government shut down. 

But a better idea would be to have a rational plan. What rational steps can you take to survive a government shutdown and military pay delay? What should you do in a government shutdown?

First, this is what you should NOT do in a government shutdown:

  • DO NOT take out a "payday" loan.
  • DO NOT cash out your Thrift Savings Plan.
  • DO NOT pawn all your valuables.
  • DO NOT make any major financial decisions while under this stress.

Now, some things that you SHOULD do during a government shutdown:

  • DO make sure you have a pretty thorough understanding of your current financial situation.   Look at all available assets:  checking, savings, the coins in the ashtray of your car, CDs, etc.  If you are unclear about things like what you owe and to whom, interest rates, minimum payments, etc., now is exactly the time to figure this out.  Use this as a learning opportunity, and talk with your spouse.
  • DO prepare to talk with any creditors, including landlords, mortgage companies, orthodontists, child care providers, car finance companies, loans and credit cards.  They may or may not be helpful but communication is essential.  Try to get an idea of who is likely to work with you and who is really not going to cut you any slack at all.
  • DO be prepared to suspend any automatic debits that you have scheduled.  If you have automatic drafts that are to come out immediately after the 15th, and you won't have the money if you don't get paid, you might want to suspend them as a precaution.  It typically takes a few days to stop an automatic draft from being debited.
  • DO look at the choices you are making RIGHT NOW.  There should be quite a few purchases, both large and small, that can be eliminated or postponed.  Can you take that vacation next  month?  Does that home repair need to be done right now, or can it wait a bit?  Would it be possible to wait to purchase that new washer and dryer, or could you buy a used one instead of new?  On a smaller scale, this would be the right time to cut back on little luxuries.  Can you give up the Red Bull, or buy it at the commissary instead of from the convenience store?  Can your family eat a few more meatless meals?  Might the $5 laundry soap clean your clothes as well as the $9 bottle?
  • DO control your food costs.  For most families, food is the second or third largest amount of money spent each month.  (Housing is typically first, and sometimes auto expenses come in second.)  Look at what you have in your pantry, your refrigerator and your freezer.  Think creatively about how you will make this food last as long as possible.  Learn to fill in with rice and in-season fresh vegetables.  Beans can be prepared a million different ways, they are super-nutritious, and they are cheap.  (Even cheaper if you buy them dried.)  Use resources such as to figure out how to create meals out of the things that you have on hand.
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